Veep’s Matt Walsh Thinks His Character is a Better Press Secretary Than Sean Spicer

Veep’s Matt Walsh Thinks His Character is a Better Press Secretary Than Sean Spicer
Matt Walsh, center, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale in HBO's Veep. Photograph by Lacey Terrell via HBO.

Veep, HBO’s comedy series about a smack-talking president and her gang of inept advisers—returned for its sixth season Sunday. When the series paused, Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the first female US president, lost in perhaps the only way more unbelievable than 2016’s election: a Senate vote after a tie in the Electoral College. The new season depicts Selina’s early post-presidential years in the show’s first episodes to air since Donald Trump was elected the real world’s commander-in-chief last November.

While the show, which has won 12 Emmys, was never meant to mimic the real world, it’s hard to resist drawing comparisons to the new guard in the White House. So Washingtonian caught up with Matt Walsh—who plays Mike McLintock, the bumbling and now-former White House Press Secretary whose slip-ups draw mockery from outside his administration and ire from within it—about what’s next on the show, why it works so well, and how life imitates art.

What’s Mike McLintock up to at the start of this new season?

Well, everybody is out of a job because [Selina] lost the vote in the Senate, but the show picks up a year later, and Mike is basically playing Mr. Mom. He’s got three kids now—he’s taking care of the twins his surrogate had and he’s got a Chinese baby girl who he thought was three, but is actually six. He’s housebound, but you start to see that Selina needs him for this book she’s thinking about writing.

You were already half-way through filming these episodes on Election Day, but people are inevitably going to compare Veep‘s characters to members of the new administration. Do you think Mike McLintock is anything like Sean Spicer?

I actually think Mike McLintock is a lot better at his job than Sean Spicer. Mike is a buffoon and he’s not great at his job, that’s true. He is childlike and easily distracted and has an uncontrollable appetite, so he is a flawed human being. But when he’s at the podium in the briefing room, he’s actually pretty competent. And I think Mike can stick to talking points better than Spicer. I don’t think he digs as many holes by extemporaneously riffing on the president’s position as Sean Spicer does. Spicer has knocked around DC for 20 years, so they’re [both] veterans of the system and this is their prime gig, they’re both peaking at this point in their career.

They both have a difficult job, speaking on behalf of a voice that’s constantly changing. 

The similarity is true, the fickleness of their boss, and the immediate 180s that constantly happen in Selina’s office are very similar to Trump. Her willingness to throw people under the bus is very similar to Trump as well.

So has your role as a press secretary led you to have any advice or sympathy for Spicer?

Because it’s a real job and not a comedy show, I would just tell Spicer to quit, honestly. I get that it’s a nightmare administration and it’s chaotic and there is no vision or cohesive plan going on. But it doesn’t drive me to have sympathy for him. More like, you really need to quit if you value your life and the time that you’re committing your efforts to. It is the big time and it is a wonderful gig, but at some point you can’t just cling to the top of the mountain just because you’re on top of the mountain. You have to go like, “I tried, I really tried, but I can’t deal with this anymore.”

 

 

I binged the whole show over the past couple months, and found some scenes hilarious in context of the new administration. For instance, early in the the fifth season, your character finds out President Meyer is tweeting inappropriately and runs over to try and stop her. Are there other scenes that feel more realistic now than when you were filming?

We’re always trying to create the most ridiculous, absurd thing to happen, but hopefully, not too crazy that it pulls the legs out of all the other stuff we’re playing realistically. I think [show runner David Mandel] talked recently of a joke about golden showers, and then with all the Trump supposed information that could be leaked, it got pulled from the script… But the Twitter one, if you did that now, it’d be lukewarm, it wouldn’t feel dangerous, because we have a president that tweets at four in the morning everyday.

Every character in the show is either despicable or incompetent. Why do I care so much about their happiness?

It seems like you’re asking a therapist that question.

I need answers!

Selina is awful, but somehow Julia plays it in a way that you do root for her. She doesn’t feel evil, but she is narcissistic, petty, an egomaniac, lives in a bubble, and looks down her nose at poor people. She has all those qualities, but for some reason, the way she portrays it, I understand that, you like her? Maybe because in those moments where she’s honest, you see what she’s up against. She is up against sexism and corruption every day and she does get a short hand. The world does sometimes seem to conspire against her.

In many ways I feel like it’s that underdog nature of some of the characters. Like, the fact that you know Jonah lives with his Mom, you know too much about Jonah. His public persona is like, “Oh, I’ve got so much swagger and I’ve got so many broads,” but really you know that’s a front. With Mike it’s obvious, he’s got a storm cloud that follows him everywhere, he’s a punching bag for pretty much everyone on the show. But he is kind of the most moral or the most ethical. He has a humane approach to issues and sometimes he has smart ideas that just get shouted over.

So do you think, hypothetically, Mike McLintock would spread misinformation about inauguration crowd sizes if President Meyer asked him to?

[Sighs] Yeah, he probably would… She bosses him around and he is a loyal soldier. He’s been with her for 15-plus years, so he’s said things that are not true or that he disagreed with many times for her. He probably would try to send that balloon up for her, and then it’d get shot down…

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Veep airs Sundays at 10:30 PM.

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Jackson Knapp
Editorial Fellow